Hema Rajagopalan: A dancer unfurling Indian culture in Chicago (Video)

Hema Rajagopalan teaching Bharatnatyam to her students (Nikita Mandhani/Medill)

By Nikita Mandhani

Hema Rajagopalan, an acclaimed Indian classical dancer, moved to Chicago from India in 1974. With a master’s degree in nutrition, she chose to quit dancing and work as a dietician in the city. But, her passion for the dance of Bharata Natyam won over.

A leading member of the Indian-American community persuaded Rajagopalan to perform at a community center in Chicago. From there on, Rajagopalan’s journey as a dance teacher took off. At the request of a few parents, she started teaching Bharata Natyam to children. What started as a small dance class in her living room grew to become a leading dance theatre in Chicago and its suburbs.

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Hema Rajagopalan is deeply committed to the dance form of Bharata Natyam. (Nikita Mandhani/MEDILL)

Bharata Natyam is one of the oldest dance forms of India. “Due to its wide range of movements and postures and the balanced mélange of the rhythmic and mimetic aspects lends itself well to experimental and fusion choreography,” according to the Art India website.

Rajagopalan says that Bharata Natyam is a classical dance form that was derived from the Natya Shastra, a 3000-year-old treatise in the Hindu mythology comprising of rules and regulations of dance, drama, theatre and art. She calls it a “composite art form” because it’s not one-dimensional.

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Hema Rajagopalan explains the three aspects of Bharata Natyam. (Nikita Mandhani/MEDILL)

Rajagopalan’s dance company,  the Natya Dance Theatre (NDT), “offers ongoing, comprehensive training for beginner through professional levels in Bharata Natyam.” According to the theatre’s website, apart from classes, it also offers annual dance performances.

Photo at top: Hema Rajagopalan teaches Bharata Natyam to her students. (Nikita Mandhani/MEDILL)